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Planet India

The Channel [V] Awards reaffirm the global impact of all things Indian

India's global impact on the arts, from fashion to music, couldn't have been exemplified better than at the 1998 Channel [V] Awards in Delhi on 21 November: Sting, attired in traditional Indian clothes, sat cross-legged on a dias, "baithak" style, and rendered "Every Breath You Take" to the stirrings of classical instruments like the sitar accompanied by Hindi singer Shiamak Davar with famed British Asian virtuoso Talvin Singh on tabla.

Cut back to exactly a decade ago at the very same venue, Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, when Sting was part of an international line-up of Eighties superstars like Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman who performed in India as part of their Amnesty International world tour. Ten years on, yoga convert Sting performing a raga-tinged version of "Fields Of Gold" on a pleasant evening in Delhi only confirmed what the ex-Police frontman told STAR News, "India is the center of all culture, even western culture. I mean, Sanskrit is the mother of all languages."

Channel [V] India General Manager Jules Fuller elaborated, "Sting, Singh and Davar together was a golden moment. This is what Channel [V] is all about." Fuller was confident that the awards were now marketable enough to be aired on international channels and he said discussions are on with the UK's Channel Four and the Fox Network in the US.

For Talvin Singh, the event was nothing short of a homecoming, "Delhi is a kind of stiff place at times but the response was great... The performance with Sting was totally unplanned. It just kind of happened, totally spontaneous." Sting was honoured with an award for Outstanding Contribution to Music at an evening that turned London club fave and classically trained tabla maestro Talvin Singh into the next biggest thing to cross over into India from the unique British Asian scene. Singh's bass 'n' drum, tabla-flavoured remix of the hottest Bollywood track of the year, "Chaiyya Chaiyya" (off the "Dil Se" soundtrack) introduced the opening dance act featuring Channel [V] VJ and acclaimed dancer Jaaved Jaffrey and his troupe. Backstage after his groundbreaking performance featuring his solo piece on his hybrid "tablatronic" system, Talvin said, "I am just a medium of this beautiful force and my instrument is another medium whether its the tabla or the sitar... I carry on studying the classical side and have played with the likes of Ustad Nishad Khan and L Subramnium. And then there is, I suppose, my own emotion which I put in this divine force."

Now in their third year, the awards have become the most important amongst the plethora of awards held in India, thanks also to the support by industry body IMI (Indian Music Industry). IMI President and PolyGram India Managing Director Vijay Lazarus added, "Any award takes time to establish credibility and these awards are now easily the best in the country. It will take a couple of years for the awards to impact sales but it definitely helps promoting international talent as well. PolyGram saw that last year with Bon Jovi." This time PolyGram are looking forward to the re-release of Sting's greatest hits which will include the duets with Davar and Singh as bonus tracks.

The big winner was Aqua (who also performed live in front of an estimated 20,000 invited crowd) bagging best international video for "Barbie Girl", best international album and best international song. On the fashion front, Aqua female lead Rene went Indian in technicolour glory, offering shades of last year's hippie chick at the awards, No Doubt's Gwenn Stefanie.

Aqua's Indian licensee BMG-Crescendo had double reason to celebrate as the band has the honour of selling the highest ever units for any international album in India with sales crossing 330,000 units for "Aquarium" in its one year of release. BMG-Crescendo also scored high on the domestic front with Delhi-based Silk Route winning best Indian newcomer, best Indian group and best Indian song for "Dooba Dooba" (Drowning) off their debut album "Boondein" (Droplets).

The slickly packaged three hour show was marked with blistering sets by domestic talent like bhangra superstar Daler Mehndi and foreign artists Def Leppard who hit the stage to show their appreciation for winning a Lifetime Achievement Award even if they lip synced to the disappointment of die hard fans.

It was also a night of great humour with Jaaved Jaafrey and fellow VJ, the rustic Udham Singh pushing the envelope with racy innuendos. Designer Rohit Bal, announcing the award for Best Indian Album delivered the punch by announcing the winner, Daler Mehndi, as "Bill Clinton... with a turban."

Political boundaries and differences took a backseat as Pakistan's Junoon reinforced their presence by winning best international group thanks to their crossover album "Azadi" (Freedom). Said Junoon manager Sheriyar Ahmed, "I am sure Junoon's performance at the awards will help the re-release of the band's previous album "Inquilaab" (Revolution) for which a video is also out." When Junoon came onstage to accept the awards, a section of the crowd was beginning to shout anti Pakistan slogans but when the band's Salman Ahmed, in his acceptance speech, said, "I hope the people of Pakistan and India can work together for peace," the resounding ovation drowned the cynics.

Though the awards have become important enough to be covered by most major Indian media outlets, the overnight sales impact culture, according to Fuller, still needs more promotional efforts. "On our part, Channel V is all behind Talvin Singh very strongly even though not all his stuff is commercial but it is really exciting."

For the future, the industry in general would like to see the IMI-controlled nominations process (covering 22 categories) to aim for more credibility. Commented Fuller, "I don't think the nominations process is fair and there are companies like Virgin and Sony which are not necessarily core members of IMI in the final decision making process. I am wondering next year if all the awards can follow a viewer's choice system (instead of the singular win bagged this year by film music producer A R Rahman). I mean, the Brits have refined their nomination process after many years so we have just begun."

BMG's Thomas added, "Sometimes IMI follows an internal voting process if there is a deadlock. But this definitely needs improvement." On his part, Fuller sees Channel V being more active in the nomination process next year and for the majors getting active in the region he commented, "I would like them to stick their hands up in the air and say, "Lets do something extraordinary" like Polygram did this year with Sting and Shiamak and Talvin."

The awards ended just after midnight which saw invitees heading to the Taj Palace hotel for an after-show party that went on till dawn. A veritable who's who of fashion glamour dolls and celebrities bopped away on the dance floor and for one night, Delhi was the center of the world.

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